Meat industry fails to prevent next pandemic, new report reveals

Farm pigs separates by crates standing to eat, animal news
Pigs at a farm, photo: songqiuju via Canva

Almost two-thirds of the world’s largest meat, fish and dairy companies are failing to prevent the next pandemic, a report by the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) initiative revealed.

“From avian and swine flu to COVID-19, it’s time for meat companies and policymakers to learn from COVID-19 and to invest in preventing the next pandemic,” Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR, said.

“Intensive farming environments, housing most of the 70 billion farm animals reared every year, are a known breeding ground for disease,” Coller added.

Since COVID-19 emerged two years ago, there has been increasing pressure on the meat industry to tackle conditions in intensive animal farming facilities and slaughterhouses.

“The emergence of diseases that move between animals and humans has increased markedly in the past decade,” David Nabarro, Special Envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization (WHO), said.

“The way we currently produce and consume food is pushing the natural world to its limits,” Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment at the WHO, said.

“Land use change and deforestation, driven in large part by agricultural and livestock intensification, is driving the emergence of new zoonotic diseases as habitat loss puts wildlife into close contact with humans and farm animals,” she added.

Highly stressed animals crowded together increase the risk of zoonotic disease emergence and transmission, FAIRR reported.

FAIRR, a network backed by investors managing over $48 trillion of assets, uses the Emerging Disease Risk Ranking to rank companies on their contribution to the outbreak of emerging diseases in intensive animal production.

The measures FAIRR uses are deforestation, biodiversity, antibiotics use, waste and pollution management, working conditions, food safety and animal welfare.

FAIRR found that 38 of 60 large meat, fish and dairy producers ranked ‘high risk’ on its Emerging Disease Risk Ranking, which means they score poorly to prevent future zoonotic pandemics.

Global animal product companies such as Cal-Maine Foods (US) and New Hope Liuhe (China), suppliers of meat at Walmart, are among 38 firms criticised by investors for failing to enforce practices that could enable new diseases to emerge and spread.

Eight of the ten worst performing companies in the ranking are based in Asia, with Sunner Development Group, which supplies McDonald’s chicken products, at the top of the list.

“Business-as-usual animal agriculture risks incubating the next zoonotic pandemic, posing both an intolerable investment risk and a threat to global public health,” Coller said. “The sector must improve rapidly, starting with welfare conditions for both animals and workers.”

The Animal Reader is a small independent animal news platform based in the Netherlands. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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